On a bright cool morning I went down to the city park with a small wooden table and a wooden chair under my arm. There were already a few curious onlookers watching as I set up the table and chair at a spot where a couple of the foot paths came together, where I knew that a lot of people would pass by throughout the day. I placed an old cracked coffee cup at the head of the table as I sat down in the chair. There was a little show that I would put on here at the park every day. The coffee cup was filled with black flower petals and I would dump them out and scatter them across the table. Before long, a bird would land on the table and set to work picking up the petals one by one in its beak and dropping them back into the coffee cup until it was filled again. Then it would turn to me, dancing back and forth from one foot to the other, until I gave it a little piece of cracker from the inside pocket of my coat, and then it would fly back to the trees holding the cracker in its beak. Then I would dump the coffee cup back out onto the table and go through the whole thing again.
People stopped throughout the day to watch. They weren’t expecting to see anything like this. They would slow down and be drawn in as they went by. Some of them would give me a few dollars. Some would give me the change from their pockets. Some just watched and nodded and moved on. People with kids would always stop. They would hold the kid back by the shoulder and they knew they all had to stay perfectly still so that they wouldn’t spook the bird. The kids would watch without blinking, holding their breath, peeking out from the tails of their mothers’ coats. The only real trick on my part was that I had developed a rapport with the birds here at the park. I was always gentle with them and they had learned that I would never hurt them and possibly they had passed the word around to all the other birds. It was always different birds that came and went. I hadn’t trained any of them, but they all somehow seemed to know. The news had gotten around.
In the afternoon an older woman, passing by alone, stopped to watch. She waited until the show was done and the bird had flown, and then she shook her head and said that it was amazing and that it reminded her of how she had met her husband. When she was a child she had seen a bird outside her window picking up petals and fallen leaflets, just as my bird had done, and somehow she knew that this was an omen. She knew that someday her future husband would be as careful and industrious as this bird had been at its work. Years later, when she was a young woman, a violent storm had blown through her town. She went to the house of some friends to take shelter, and the man she was dating was supposed to meet her there, but the hours went by and he never showed up. She was worried about him, but she was angry too. She stayed at the rain-spotted window, watching for him, feeling her throat tighten as she saw the broken branches of a tree blow down the street. Finally, the storm began to subside and a few of her friends ventured from the house, and one of them came back telling her that they’d found her boyfriend. He knew she was mad and he was afraid to come into the house. She found him in the yard, standing sheepishly under a tree. She started tearfully yelling at him, asking him where he had been, asking him how he could do this to her. Suddenly, in this middle of her tirade, she noticed that he had perked up and he seemed to be looking at something just past her. She turned and noticed that there was a black bird on her shoulder, pecking at her sweater trying to get her attention. It had stayed there all the while that she had been yelling. She knew that this was the sign, and that this man was her future husband.
She was a bit teary eyed as she finished her story. She gave me five dollars and patted me on the head and moved on. I took up the coffee cup of petals again, gave it a little shake and then poured it out on the table. It wasn’t long before another bird came. Sometimes the birds would even let me pet them, and I gave this one a little scratch on the back. He was a tad smaller than some of the other birds and he had to perch on the handle of the cup to reach over the lip of it and drop the petals in. As I watched him hop on and off the handle and gather the petals one by one, a cloud passed overhead and the day dimmed for a moment and brightened again as the cloud passed by. A breeze blew through. There was no one around. The bird paused and jerked his head and turned his dark eye on me, regarding me as I watched him.
Just as he had hopped back onto the handle of the cup, a piercing squeal rang out behind me. Two girls had come down the path, and when they saw the bird perched on the cup, one of them had let out the squeal because of how cute the bird looked. The squeal threw the bird completely off balance. He teetered a little bit on the handle, and as he flew off, he tipped the cup over and off the edge of the table. The cup shattered into pieces as it hit the ground. There were petals scattered among the broken pieces. There were petals still scattered on the table. There was a great deal of commotion and tweeting in the trees. The news was getting around.